Bring It On: How Your Challenges Make You Mighty

Oct 20, 2019

You wake to the sun shining on Monday, your energy is solid all morning and afternoon, and you make healthy food choices. You feel pretty badass about it all.

On Tuesday you wake to realize you’re out of coffee. Then you are stuck in traffic, arrive late to your morning meeting, and while eating lunch, manage to spill yogurt on your crotch. While you try to wash it off in the bathroom, making awkwardly intimate moves with the porcelain sink, your phone rings. And your kid needs to be picked up from school, because “We think he has tonsillitis.”

Maybe the details in your life differ, and life’s cruelty shows up instead as a sick dog, migraine, and broken eyeglasses. The details don’t matter, because some things remain the same. When we’re having one of those days, we are more likely to eat too much, cave to a craving rather than sit through it, stress ourselves out, and not get done all the things we wanted to. If you’re like most people, these days can dampen your mood and make you feel frustrated and down. 

You wish they would never happen again. They are hard. But I’m here to remind you that they can be important parts of your journey, and they have immense value for you if you interpret them and use them in the best way. Keep these points in mind on your next super-hard day, it just might change your outlook on the situation. 

You can see your skill progress best when you have obstacles. 

Everyone can eat well when life is easy. But our clients often notice that they’ve really come a long way on the days when things go wrong for them and they can still eat reasonably well, despite the stress.

Remember that skills don’t flip on and off like light switches, they are built up over time in many degrees, as we practice. Your old Bad Day At The Office routine might have looked like skipping lunch, getting fast food on the way home and killing an entire bottle of wine. And maybe it’s still not perfect, but you ate an apple out of your lunch, and stopped by Subway on the way home. Sure, maybe you got a cookie with your sandwich, but how much of an improvement is that in the big picture? A lot.

Things which fire up intense emotions for us show us our values.

This goes for the highest highs and the lowest lows. Think of the most epically wonderful events or moments in your life. From them, you can tell what is really meaningful for you. Do those memories include your family, or were you celebrating pushing yourself through a challenge? The same goes for the really devastating or angering memories. The times our jaws dropped open in disbelief, or we felt so angered that we couldn’t bear to sit by and let it happen, we needed to stand up and DO something! Those memories, as painful as they are, also show you in the truest sense who you really are. The things that hurt you show you what your values are.  And that’s not just fun facts or navel gazing: it’s crucial information. Knowing what we value is important in steering our life choices, because what other people value or want isn’t important. It’s just a distraction. 

You see who your friends are, and who really loves you. 

If you won the lottery today, you’d suddenly have a lot more “friends” than you had yesterday. But when you lost your job, your cat was diagnosed with cancer, or you needed a ride to the airport at 5 am, who are your friends then? The people that stuck around and cheered for you when you were behind by 21 points are your real friends.

Having a really terrible day can make you short tempered and less charming. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, BUT it does happen to everyone. And the value in it? People who are kind and gracious and understanding when you aren’t your best self really love you. (And they’ll accept your apology). 

You grow stronger.

The skills to get through life’s problems with composure tend to come from things which are much tougher than we would have elected for ourselves. I know people who seem to have developed infinite patience and strength - and I know they got those attributes through circumstances I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Whatever trauma or misfortune may have dropped in your lap, it can be part of building your self confidence. You will have self-esteem rooted in knowing you have been through adversity and survived. You don’t have to live in fear of “what if” because you know you will handle it when it comes.

If you’re not skilled at accepting help from other people, outstandingly bad days and overwhelmingly awful circumstances will bring it to your attention.

And that can be ouchy. However it's also extremely valuable if you want to better yourself. You ask and accept help, or you suffer. I have learned this myself (more than once, as is typical) when my “do everything on my own” modus operandi wasn't possible. When I was post-surgery or bedridden with pain, and just plain couldn’t do things like get the mail or do the laundry, my limitation to accept help became really obvious. When I needed paramedics to rescue my hypothermic shivering butt from the woods last year, I was in therapy for weeks afterward to overcome the guilt I felt at having taken their time due to my own mistakes. It’s definitely an area of my weakness, but as a skilled counselor helped me see, it was me not feeling worthy of love that made it so difficult. And that has helped me to accept aid and kindness from other people with less resistance. 

Allowing other people to love us means letting them make dinner, do the laundry, or take out the dog.  It means letting them listen to you for an hour when you bawl or blabber on about yourself in a completely one-sided conversation. If you want to be fully part of the world, part of the human collective, let people offer you a hand, a handout, or a favor you can’t repay. That’s how you let people love you. 

We connect to others powerfully through mutual suffering and vulnerability. And neither of those happen when we’re all on cloud nine. 

Military veterans are bonded for life. They stay in touch for decades and across thousands of miles, as close as brothers. Part of this is because they suffered together in service. Think of the people you feel close to, and how they have confided in you when they were upset or faced a dilemma. That strengthened your friendship. Telling someone else about your own struggles, even if those struggles are in the past, helps them feel understood and not alone. These rough moments in our lives connect us in a way idyllic living never would. 

The sun comes out again. 

The darkest, longest, coldest nights of your life still led to a sunrise. Sometimes, the sun is rising on a world that is forever changed and different. Things don’t necessarily get fixed, but we do find that if we hang in there, letting a few hours or days pass often lightens the view, eases the pain, and reminds us that life ain’t over yet. 

Pass this onto someone you know having a hard time, or tuck it away for one of your own trying days. Appreciate yourself for facing your adversities with an open mind, and remember that this challenge is just another part of becoming your best self. 

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